If you would like to know more about modern art, but have difficulty wrapping your head around the Futurists, Neo-Impressionists, Abstract Expressionists, and the myriad other -ists and -isms of this vast subject, perhaps you should untether yourself from timelines.
Modern Art & Ideas, a free online course from the Museum of Modern Art (aka MoMA), shifts the focus away from period and movement, instead grouping works according to four themes: Places & Spaces, Art & Identity, Transforming Everyday Objects, and Art & Society.
It’s an approach that’s worked well for MoMA’s Education Department. (Another upcoming online class, Art & Ideas: Teaching with Themes, is recommended for professional educators looking to develop the pedagogical skills the department employs to get visitors to engage with the art.)
An early lesson on how artists capture environments considers three works: Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43), and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Bingo. Vintage photos and footage conspire with period music to whisk students to the settings that inspired these works—a bucolic French mental hospital, New York City’s bustling, WWII-era Times Square, and a derelict house in down on its luck Niagara Falls.
Regular readers of Open Culture are likely to have a handle on some of the ways art stars Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol explored identity, the course’s third week theme, but what about Glenn Ligon, a living African American conceptual artist?
Ligon may not have the renown or tote bag appeal of his lessonmates, but his 1993 series, Runaways, is powerful enough to hold its own against Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair and Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe.
In fact, teachers looking to expand their Black History Month curriculum could spark some lively discussions by showing students the extremely accurate facsimiles of 19th-century runaway slave ads featuring physical descriptions of Ligon, solicited from friends who’d been told they were supplying details for a hypothetical Missing Person poster.
Ligon’s series is also a good starting place for discussing conceptual art with a friend who thinks conceptual art is best defined as White Cow in a Snowstorm.
Note: To take the courses for free, selection the Audit (as opposed to paid) option during the enrollment process.
- Fashion as Design
- Seeing Through Photographs
- Art & Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom
- In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting
- Art & Activity: Interactive Strategies for Engaging with Art
- Art & Ideas: Teaching with Themes
Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses, it helps support Open Culture.